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Democrats See Big Majorities

Party Presses Cash Advantage

With Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) favored to win the White House, Democrats were barely restrained Wednesday as they predicted big gains in the House and Senate and looked forward to legislating in a Congress free of any significant Republican opposition.

Buoyed by a $50 million-plus advantage in independent expenditure advertising, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is playing in more than 50 Republican-held districts on its way to a projected net pickup of at least 25 House seats. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is targeting a dozen states and now has a real possibility of picking up the nine seats needed to produce a 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority.

“I do think we’re going to pick up a large number of seats that’s going to make Democrats pretty happy. That I’m pretty sure of,” DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday.

Under threat of being ousted are not just Republican Senators running for re-election in Democratic states expected to go big for Obama, but also those in GOP states projected to pick Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Among the en- dangered GOP incumbents in red states are Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sens. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.).

The Republicans’ only shot at a Senate pickup is in Louisiana, where state Treasurer John Kennedy is challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu (D).

The Democrats’ confidence is evident in their rhetoric, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in recent days — and Schumer on Wednesday — describing the forthcoming increased Democratic majorities in Congress as bipartisan and independent, while painting the likely Republican opposition to come as obstructionist and against “change.”

In his opening remarks at Wednesday’s news conference, Schumer moved to discredit the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s latest pitch — that a strong Republican minority is needed to offer a check against Democratic control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

The NRSC’s IE unit has aired television ads in Louisiana, North Carolina and Oregon in recent days that concede an Obama victory over McCain in the presidential contest. The 30-second spots urge voters to support Republicans for Senate to maintain a check on unfettered Democratic rule in Washington, D.C.

NRSC Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) has been making a similar argument.

But Schumer said Republicans have no interest in balanced government, only in blocking the change that Democrats are expected to promote. He referred to the incoming crop of freshman Democratic Senators specifically — and the 111th Congress’ Democratic Senate Conference generally — as “thoughtful,” contending they will put their states first and “not rubberstamp everything that any president wants.”

“Republican Senators — Republican incumbents — aren’t for checks and balances. They’re for blocking change and backing [President] Bush,” Schumer said. “Divided government is their code word for continued obstruction.”

Republicans questioned the bipartisan credentials of a Democratic majority that was moving to paint the GOP as obstructionist months before the next Congress is set to gavel into session.

“If Democrats plan to be so bipartisan, then why are they openly stating that they plan to villainize Republicans in the next Congress?” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain asked.

Ironically, back in 2005 when Democrats were still a minority in the House and Senate, Schumer argued that the filibuster was not obstruction, but rather a legitimate use of power intended by the Founding Fathers to provide the checks and balances on the majority. It was a message that he used last cycle as DSCC chairman as he campaigned, ultimately successfully, to have voters return control of the Senate to his party.

The NRSC, noting that most GOP Senate candidates remain competitive despite their myriad challenges, disputed Schumer’s claim that the checks-and-balances message isn’t resonating. In particular, Republican Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and John Sununu (N.H.) remain in contention, according to the polls, despite the Democratic lean of their states and Obama’s expected victories.

“If Americans are so ready for a one-party Democrat rule, then why are most of our Republican candidates currently very competitive in our races?” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said. “Either they are wrong about that assumption, or their candidates are much weaker than even we believe.”

In the House, where there is no filibuster and the minority party has few parliamentary tools at its disposal to stymie the will of the majority, the DCCC is moving to maximize its gains and further marginalize the GOP minority.

This week alone, the DCCC has gone on TV with 30 television ads in 30 House districts — most of them GOP-held and many of them seats that are staunchly conservative and historically Republican. On Wednesday, the DCCC went on the air with one defensive television spot in Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) district but otherwise unveiled five more ads in five Republican districts.

As of Wednesday, the DCCC had spent $72.4 million on IE advertising to date for the election cycle; the NRCC had spent only $20.5 million. House Republicans appear positioned to flip barely a handful of Democratic-held seats: Pennsylvania Rep. Paul Kanjorski’s 11th district, Texas Rep. Nick Lampson’s 22nd district and Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney’s16th district.

Murtha appears only nominally threatened, as do Democratic Reps. Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire’s 1st district and Nancy Boyda in Kansas’ 2nd district.

“There are currently more than two dozen races that are jump balls. and we remain aggressively on the offense, playing on a field historic in size,” DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell said. “With less than a week, Democrats are maneuvering to ensure we leave no opportunity on the table.”

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